Round 3 – Night 4

Pittsburgh at Boston – Game 2

Oh what a beautiful game hockey is.  This one was a classic.  If you are a fan of the game, I’m sure there are games that stand out in your mind from years gone by, that you remember as just being damn fine hockey.

From recent years, you may recall matches between the Kings and the Black Hawks.  From twenty years back (or was it more?), you may remember Avs vs the Red Wings or either of those two against the Stars.  Back when those teams were tweaked in the prior summer to deal with just such anticipated meetings ten months later.  Further back there were Islanders vs Oilers, or Habs vs Bruins.

These two teams are very good.  The were moments of brilliance, when incredible passes found their way to snipers who sniped, there were big hits where you couldn’t help but wince from your chair as the hit rippled through your wireless connection thru the TV right into your body at home, and there were crazy saves by goalies that left players shaking their heads.

There were the typical shots of players, heads down on the bench as the game wore on, out of breath, or in pain inflicted by the puck, a hit, or perhaps just left over from a prior game, the cumulative effect simply not going away even with the mid-game adrenaline pumping away.

And of course, there was emotion, with players chirping and hacking away.

Not much to separate these two and yet someone has to win, no?  Pasta, with his toothy/ toothless grin, pulled the trigger on a beauty 10 minutes into overtime, with the perfection line stealing the Pen’s playbook by using those crazy cross-ice / cross-seam passes that left the Pen’s defender stretched, not quite far enough, and sprawling haplessly as the puck found its way between all of them to Pasta’s stick, just for a instant before he hammered it into the twine.

Series tied 1-1.

 

 

 

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Round 3 – Night 3

Edmonton at Colorado – Game 2

The Av’s came out hard in this one, determined not to go down 2-0 in their own building.  Edmonton tried to survive the early onslaught and keep the crowd out of it and at the end of the first, they had accomplished that much…sort of.  They were out-shot badly 18-7 (and a lot of those shots were good ones by the Av’s) but they escaped the first with the game still scoreless.

However, the second played to the same script and the Avs were finally rewarded with a goal 7 minutes in on a pretty passing play that Makar, who had jumped into the rush (he is good at that isn’t he?) finished off with a perfect shot off the goal post and in.

The Av’s never looked back.  The score stayed this way until late in the second, even with the Avs continuing to dominate the play, when they got a shortie in the last minute to widen their lead to two.  They cruised to a 4-1 win and tied this one up.

Series tied 1-1.

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Round 3 – Night 2

Pittsburgh at Boston – Game 1

A couple of good teams here for sure.  Both have a core of cup winners and unlike their western counterparts, who perhaps have many more play-offs in front them, the stars in this series are definitely in that part of their careers where they are trying to “cement their legacies”.

The Bruins have The Perfection Line.  When Marchand is licking only medicine from a spoon in an old folks home some day far in the future, the memories he and Bergeron and Pasta created years prior will be the stuff of legend.  And Chara.  I didn’t like him much earlier in his career but I like him now.  He battles, his eyes are still fiery and he competes so, so hard.  This guy loves hockey.  He loves winning.  He loves his team mates and being at the rink.  He loves that everything he has done wins him praise from hockey cathedrals like Montreal where the fans gave him a standing O earlier this year for some milestone of longevity he had achieved.

And of course, the Pens have Crosby.  And Malkin.  Is Gino the Messier to the 80’s Oiler’s Messier?  Will Gino go win a cup as a Captain of another squad at some point later in his career as Mess did?  I doubt it but it won’t take away from just how good this guy is.  If you ever played D, or had to cover a big star on the other side, think of what it must be like to try to keep this guy in check during a big game.  Crosby is Crosby.  Another cup for the Pens would be something for him wouldn’t it?  And then there’s Letang…a skating d-man that is as fun to watch as any of the good ones.  And all the other players they have packaged around the guys.

But back to the game.  I’ll keep it short.  Crosby played and looked good so no injury worries from the Giroux hit in game 6 of the Flyers series.  Pens win 2-0.  They kept all the Bruins in check, something that doesn’t happen often.  These Pens are rolling.

Pens lead 1-0

 

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Round 3 – Night 1

Edmonton at Colorado – Game 1

This one promised to be the first of perhaps a perennial western classic with two good young teams, with a core of stars, looking to make their mark on hockey history.

Game 1 got off to a roaring start and then got better from there.  As good a hockey game as you’ll see West of the W in Elmira.  Even former Peterborough Petes of all stripes would be impressed with how good this game was.

With all the offensive talent these teams possess, and with neither possessing a franchise goalie, the script played out pretty much as expected from a goals perspective.  The penalty kills were very good, but the power-plays were better and the Av’s held a 4-3 lead heading to the third on the strength of two power-play markers.

However, late in the third, in the waning seconds of a power play with the Av’s Makar in the box, the Oilers rigged up a new look with newcomer Big Bill Crowley playing up front with McJesus and Leon.  And he delivered as anyone with the name Big Bill might be expected to do.  He knocked in a rebound to tie it on one of those “grit” plays that define players in the play-offs

So this one went to OT and you know what they say – sometimes the bigger the stage, the bigger the moment, the big players come out and make big plays. Yup, you guessed, Big Bill got the winner 5 minutes in and was mobbed by his team mates.

Asked post-game what the key was to his first goal, he hit all the right notes saying he just “tried to stay with it”, “was trying to make life difficult for Av’s goalie to see”, “with the stars he was on the ice with, was just trying to stay in the moment”….yada yada, but the key seemed to be his stick as McDavid quickly keyed in on, “Have you see that thing?  It looks like a boat paddle!  It must be a 100 years old.  Don’t know how he shoots with that thing but in tight, he got good enough wood on it to get us to OT and then that shot in overtime – what was that?  I’ve never seen anyone shoot that way but I guess with that kind of lumber, you do what you have to.”

With a hint of time-travelling, field-of-dreams sort of irony, Crowley was also asked how good this felt, given that it’s been a good while since he moved to Edmonton to pursue his hockey dreams, “Damn straight” he said, “1907 ain’t yesterday so nice to finally get back to the Stanley Cup play-offs!”

Disclosure: I have a genetic tie to Big Bill Crowley who played for the Edmonton Thistles back in 1907.   My dad used to talk about him and knew his son well.  His son was also a good athlete, and an especially good ball player I think if memory serves me.  Big Bill was born and raised in Peterborough (born in the 1880’s I believe) around the same time as my grandfather.  I have family tree info kicking around somewhere that connects them – first cousins I think.

And while we are giving Bill Big some due credit, how ’bout that team handle?  Why don’t we have teams with names like “Thistles” anymore?  The Calgary Ragweed would be a nice counter-punch wouldn’t it?

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Round 2 – Night 11

Pittsburgh at Phili – Game 6

Suddenly, the Pens were on the verge of yet another conference final, after dropping the opening 2 games of this series.  The Flyers, well, they were on the verge of doing what they do best – making the play-offs every so often and then not winning the cup or even  getting close to it.

This one started badly for the Flyers when Giroux, trying to get his team fired up to play Phili-hockey, instead crossed that line where Phili-hockey becomes playoff-Kadri-hockey when he drilled Crosby into the boards with a little too much elbow a little too close to the head.  Exit Giroux for the balance of the game and Crosby for nobody-knows-how-long.

While that should have at least been an equal loss for both teams in this game, it turned the Pens into one angry bear of a team and they scored twice on the ensuing major power-play, taking the Phili crowd, who didn’t seem concerned about the state of Crosby’s health, right out of the game.

The Pens, clearly angry and confident, seized the advantage and came out flying in the second.  They scored in the opening minute (Malkin) and then rolled the Flyers for the remainder of the period.

The scored stay 3-0 until mid-third, with the Pens clearly the better team, when Phili scored to get within one and bring the crowd back into it.

It made no matter. The Pens, looking every bit the team brimming with confidence and within striking distant of another Cup, played shut-down hockey the rest of the way and won this one 3-2 for a 4-2 series win.

St. Louis at Colorado – Game 6

Some teams win a Cup and it stays with them and turns them into perenial contenders.  Others win one and then drift back into the mix of teams that are a contender, but not really much more than that.  St. Louis was at this cross-road in this series on this night.  Needing to win a couple to make it back to the final 4, their work was cut out for them

The Avs, under the steady influence of Joe Sakic, were at the other side of this mountain.  A real good team, but a contender?

This was a good hockey game.  Both teams were in the play-off flow.  Tired but rolling along.  Making the sacrifices of self needed, shift by shift, period by period.  They traded goals in the first and the second and mistakes were few, as they tend to be when good teams hit this point in the play-offs

The turning point in an evenly played third period came at the 14 minute mark when Kadri won a key defensive zone face-off, followed by a clean Avs exit and then when the puck came to MacKinnon 30 feet out with a clear lane to the net, he ripped a laser top shelf over the glove of Binnington.   What a difference a year makes.  You couldn’t blame him on this goal, nor in this game, nor in this play-off but he was just another goalie in this year’s play-off’s

I can almost hear the interview after the game, “Did I looked screened?” or maybe “Did it look like a knuckleball?” or how about “Did I not look as sharp as last year?”

Av’s to the final 4 with a 4-2 series. win.

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Round 2 – Night 10

Phili at Pittsburgh – Game 5

This one started rough.  Big hits, some stick work, a couple of scraps then more of the same, rinse-repeat.  Every whistle was followed by a whack, a face wash, chirping, a little bump.  Both teams played fairly close to the edge on a night where taking a penalty could result in goat horns when it was over.

The offense came from the D on both sides on this night.  Letang set up Crosby in the first on a beautiful rush where Crosby had an easy tap in by the side of the net.  In the second, Gostisbehere answered that call with a dazzling rush of his own but rather than dish, he ripped home a beauty wrister short side, top shelf to tie things up

In the third, a common theme in these play-offs presented itself again – the coaches went all-alumni and summoned some greats from the past to try and gain an edge.   Since offensive D-men seemed to be the ticket, the Pens threw Larry Murphy over the boards mid-way through third (I think he got some real good training in junior on….hmmmm, yes, the Peterborough Petes I think) and quarterbacking the power-play never looked so easy.  He fed the big man a beauty at the top of the circle and Gino made no mistake on the one-timer.

Not to be outdone, the Flyers countered with Mark Howe (you thought I was going to say Moose Dupont didn’t you?!) and Mr. Hockey’s son didn’t disappoint, logging huge minutes for the Flyers and feeding Mr Giroux for the game-tying goal in the waning minutes.

And since alumni, and old Pete’s in general, were having an impact, the Pens decided not to stop at Larry Murphy and low and behold, between the 3rd and OT, were able to convince their colour man of many years, Bob Errey, to drop the mic, and lace ’em up once more.  Being fresh helped and old “lake Errey” (as my uni room mate used to call him), turned on the jets once more down the wing and scored the winner in OT.

Post-game Mario made an appearance in the dressing to congratulate his old line mate on the scoring the winner and even Steve Yzerman, attending the game on a scouting mission, joined the fray to congratulate his old line-mate friend as well (Errey scored 53 one season with the Peterboroughs when Stevie Y was his centreman).

Pens lead the series 3-2

Colorado at St. Louis – Game 5

Mike Ricci opened the scoring for the Avs 2 minutes in – true story!  Yes, alumni are getting it done in these play-offs.  No idea where played his junior hockey though.  You better google it if you are curious.  And a few minutes later, he got a second.  The man was a player.

And in a weird twist, the Blues Coach Berube came down with a strange flu-like virus (but not the flu – hope it’s nothing serious) just before game time and rather than risk infecting his players, turned the reins over to…wait for it…yes, Scotty Bowman!  Back behind the Blue bench just 50 years plus a couple of days after Number 4 downed his Blues in the finals with that iconic goal in 1970.

Scottie, (who I should mention coached the Peterborough Petes early in his career – just sayin’), did what Scottie does best: he got inside the head of his best players, made them a little mental, made them hate him a little, made them doubt themselves a bit by suggesting perhaps the Av’s were the better team.

Worked like a charm too.  The Blues recovered from Ricci’s early goals and climbed back into this one with good old fashioned hard work and a legendary coach behind them.

By mid-third they had taken command and the Avs packed it up, and looked like they were mentally getting ready for game 6 a little early.

Avs lead the series 3-2.

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Round 2 – Night 9

Vancouver at Edmonton – Game 5

Suddenly, those Oilers of 2018/19, owners of that dismal failure of a season, were a distant memory to the hockey world as this year’s incarnation took to the ice in their home rink one win away from the conference finals.  Who’da thun-kit?

The Vancouvers, with all those young guns, didn’t look ready to fold but had their backs to the wall in this one.  Sadly, they did indeed fold…like a cheap suitcase as that old line goes and the Oilers skated to a 5-2 win and a series victory in an unexpectedly quick 5 games.

Edmonton out-hustled, out-battled and out-nastied the Canucks on this nite.  Darnell Nurse lead the way again for the Oil picking up the Gordie Howe hat trick.  He has really come into his own in these play-offs and will need a big pay day on his next contract.  Like the Pens Malkin, his name is bouncing around near the top of the Conn Smyth list.

Edmonton wins the series 4-1

 

 

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Round 2 – Night 8

Pens at Phili – Game 4

The Pens got their crowd in it early, as they did in the previous game, and took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Malkin, who sits atop the play-off scoring derby in points and, hmmm, even though the Pens trails the series 2-1, is being mentioned in the early Conn Smyth discussions.

Flyers tied before the end of the first on a goal by Giroux and then scored early in the second to take the lead on a goal by JVR.  This game was physical with both teams understanding that a Pens win would swing the momentum firmly back in their favour and the Flyers knowing a win here and they would blunt the Pens momentum and give themselves a chance to win the series on home ice in game five.

The Pens tied it early in the third and this one stayed close until the end.  Post game, there was no doubt that the play of the night came with a buck twenty remaining when JVR got lost to the Pens D beside the net and following a mad scramble had the puck land on his stick, with a gaping net in front of him.  How many goals has this cat scored from inside of 6 feet?  A ton.  How many has he missed from there?  Not many.  But on this play, where literally all he had to do was shoot it in the net, (no need to raise it, no need to rip it, no need to get rid off really quick, no need to finesse it from a bad angle – just.shoot.it.in.the.net!), he missed.  Instead, he shot it off the goal post so that it came right back out to him where flummoxed, and with the Pens D now having firmly located him, he proceeded to take a second crack at it but before he could, got filled in and the puck stayed out.  The game stayed tied and to overtime it went.

Had the Flyers won, this likely wouldn’t have gone into hockey lore as the unwritten play of the game.  But they didn’t.  The Pens Malkin got the winner in OT and the Flyers left the arena under the trauma induced by JVR’s miss.  I can hear my old coach Dave Bowen saying “In a big game, that is the game!  You gotta score on those chances!” if any one of his players had whiffed on an easy one during the regular season and didn’t seem too worried about it.

Series tied 2-2 heading back to Phili.

St. Louis at Colorado – Game 4

Similar to the Pens-Flyers series, both teams knew this game could swing or blunt momentum big time.  The Av’s may have taken a little lesson by scoreboard watching the east-coast game as they looked determined not to follow in the Flyer’s skate tracks in this one.

The teams traded goals in the first and then again in the first half of the second before what seemed like an eery parallel to the JVR moment in the Flyer’s nightmare.  A scramble, a puck that squirted free to a former Leafer at the side of the net and this time…?  Well, Kadri banged this one in like it was a Bruin along the boards and the Avs took the lead and never looked back.  They got another before the end of the period and then one more early in the third while the Blue’s, taking chances on a pinch, got caught up ice.

Avs lead 3-1.

 

 

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Round 2 – Night 7

Boston at Toronto – Game 4

Here’s the thing about this year’s Leafs.  No one is going to accuse them of choking in the big game.  They actually outplayed the Bostons in the first two games, badly, and yet the hockey gods chose to mock them anyway.  Then the modern science movement threw analytics-sand in their face and jiminey crickets, they were down 3-0 before they knew it.

So tonite was the nite for just good old fashioned playin’ for your teammates, playin’ for the love of the game, takin’ it one game at a time, anything’s possible, other teams have done it, just got believe in yourself, gets pucks to the net, start on time, yada yada yada.

Yup, you guessed it.  The Leafers were using those i-pads on the bench to book tee-times by mid way through the first after the Bruins jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back on a 7-3 win.  Willie got all 3 for Leafers in one shift with 3 minutes left in the third.  He was all was smiles after.

Bruins win the series in a sweep.

Edmonton at Van City – Game 4

Another high tempo one out West.  Shooter were the story line tonite with some beautiful shots being the only things that got by the goalers

Boeser and Hughes scored on rockets….until Petterssen scored on a shot that made theirs look a little soft.  However, the Oilers answered those and then some.   The Nuge scored on a beautiful slapper in the first, Nurse blasted a bomb home in the second and Anthony Athanasiou got his beauty by zooming 200 miles per hour down the wing by everyone and tucked a nifty deke past Markstrom.

The difference in this one was scored by James Neal mid way through the third.

Edmonton leads the series 3-1.

 

 

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Round 2 – Night 6

Pittsburgh at Phili – Game 3

The Flyers enter this one feeling good.  Up 2-0 and playing in front of the home crowd.  Those old Gordon Lightfoot lyrics (“Is this home team still on fire? Do they still win all the games?”) felt just about right before this one got started.

Gritty was feeling it pre-game.  He and Dave the Hammer, who got a rousing applause from the crowd, dropped the mitts in the pre-game ceremony in a mock dust-up.  Crowd loved it.

And then a funny thing happened.  The Pen’s, who have a decent core, and have a few rings on their roster, got down to business and beat the be-jeezus out of the Gritty’s gang.

5-0 final and suddenly it was a series.  Flyers lead 2-1.

St. Louis at Colorado – Game 3

Having trotted out the Golden Brett in the first round and Bernie Federko earlier in this round, the Blues were out of alumni options and would have to dig deep to get back into this one.

And dig they did.  And bang.  And skate.  And check.  Oh did they check.  It’s funny that once a team has won the cup once, they always know they are winners and could just do it again.  They looked like that team tonite.   The Avs were their equal for a good part of the night but the Blues kept coming, lead by those very tall, tough, defencemen with the 19 foot reach and who, when they hit you, even nicely, feel like they are trying to kill you.  God I always hated playing against big defencemen.   [one such lurid memory can be found here]

My favourites on the Blues got it done tonite.  Steen (a helluva hockey player year after year), Parayko (see prior note about big defencemen), Tarasenko, O’Reilly and Pietrangelo all scored for the Blues.  The Av’s head their moments and actually lead 4-3 heading into the 3rd but the Blues pressed hard and put this one away with 2 in the first 10 minutes of the final frame and then playing that relentless, self-sacrificing style that won the jug for them last year.  The only chink in the armour was a so-so game from Binnington, who…surprise, surprise…looked nervous in the cage most of the game.

Avs lead 2-1.

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